"You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potionmaking. I don't expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses ... I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death — if you aren't as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach." — Severus Snape, 6 September, 1991
10 September, 1991
Stopper death. Those words had captured Hermione's imagination, and she turned them over and over in her mind, examining them from all angles. Had they been only an exaggeration? There was so much to learn about this glorious new world, but to actually stopper death seemed impossible. The first year Potions text didn't refer to anything that could accomplish such a miracle, and she longed to know everything about it. If she could only talk with someone...
She closed the Potions book in her lap and looked around the crowded common room, trying to catch the eye of one of her housemates. But the older Gryffindors had made it plain they had no time for ickle firsties, and none of her fellow first years would even glance in her direction. The boys were sprawled in one corner, laughing and playing Exploding Snap, while the girls were clustered in the opposite corner, giggling over the latest copy of Witch Weekly.
Hermione frowned, hands absently caressing the cover of the book. She'd rather read a textbook than play games or coo over that drivel in Witch Weekly, but that was just another thing that marked her as different, and the other kids, she'd learned time and again, didn't like different. Hermione had long since given up trying to fit in with other children; instead, she tried to be helpful. Her mum had told her that helpful people were always well regarded, but as a Muggle-born, she was at a disadvantage here. The Purebloods and Half-bloods already knew the accepted customs and behaviours of the Wizarding world, but the Muggle-borns were left to flounder. There was a Muggle Studies class, so why wasn't there a Wizard Studies class? It would have been terribly useful. Instead, she'd made do by carefully memorising all of the Hogwarts rules. Not only could she avoid making mistakes, but she could help her classmates avoid making them, too. However, that just seemed to make things worse, and the other first years sometimes whispered insults when she walked past. She pretended not to hear, but she knew what they said about her. She'd heard it all before in the Muggle world.
Sighing to herself, Hermione tucked the book into her bag and pulled out her class schedule. She already knew the schedule by heart, but she enjoyed the thick feel of the parchment between her fingers. She glanced down at the small section at the bottom of the page. Office Hours. Professor McGonagall had explained that each of the professors scheduled time after dinner to answer questions or otherwise assist the students.
Hermione bit her lip. Professor Snape had office hours on Tuesday evenings between half seven and nine. She glanced up at the clock fixed high on the wall of the common room. Today was Tuesday, and it was only eight o'clock.
Hermione cast another hopeful look around the common room, shoulders falling a fraction when still no one would meet her eyes. She stuffed her schedule back into her book bag and checked that she had a fresh quill and parchment. Slinging her bag over her shoulder, she walked to the door, announcing to no one in particular, "I'll be back before curfew."
She wasn't surprised that no one noticed.
Severus finished marking the last essay of the day and cast a baleful eye at the clock on the office wall. Forty-five minutes until office hours were over. However, instead of being able to retire to his rooms with the glass of Firewhisky he so richly deserved after a day of teaching idiots, he had to locate Quirrell and spend the rest of the evening spying on him. As if Severus didn't have enough to do with preparing lessons, teaching, marking assignments and acting as Head of Slytherin.
Severus' lips thinned to a grim line. As much as he hated to admit Albus was right about anything, Quirrell did bear watching. The man had always been odd, but he'd returned from the summer break with the taint of dark magic clinging to him like a shroud, and if Quirrell was after the Stone....
What was Albus thinking? Keeping the Philosopher's Stone here was madness. It should be destroyed outright. Unconsciously, Severus tensed his left forearm; the Dark Mark had never completely vanished, only fading to a silvery outline. If Albus' suspicions about the Dark Lord's return were correct, then Armageddon was creeping over the horizon, and Severus needed to set his plans in place. He couldn't rely on anyone else — never again would he make that mistake — and he was determined to prepare for all contingencies.
Severus straightened the stack of essays, then opened his lower desk drawer to remove a ragged 1932 copy of Potions Quarterly. Frequent re-reading allowed his fingers to find the correct page without looking. The magazine wasn't necessary; he'd memorised the pertinent article years ago, but it pleased him to look at it and know he'd accomplished what no one else had managed.
At eighteen, he'd purchased this copy in a second-hand shop in Knockturn Alley for three knuts. At the time, he'd had the vague notion of collecting old copies of potions magazines, but he'd abandoned the idea after becoming a Death Eater and getting his first glimpse of Lucius Malfoy's extensive private library. His own meagre collection of tattered journals had suddenly seemed a cheap parrotry. However, he'd kept this issue for an intriguing article speculating on the possibility of embedding charms in potions. The potions community largely viewed the author, G. A. Hathaway, as an oddball for preferring theory to actual brewing, and no one had managed even minimal success in translating Hathaway's theory into practice. The hypothesis had ultimately been dismissed as useless.
He brushed his finger over the notes he'd made years ago in the article margins. Initially, he'd jotted down his ideas for solving the problem of merging charms and potions, but he'd made the same mistakes as everyone else. He'd tried adding charms to completed potions and then to potions completed to various stages of brewing. Each attempt had failed. It had taken years of trial and error, but he'd recently discovered the key was to repeat the charm with each addition of an alkaline ingredient and only while stirring clockwise. So far, Severus had bound a stasis charm to a general healing potion, leaving the potion inert within the body until activated by choice. He was now working on layering multiple charms into a single potion.
There was a part of him that longed to crow his accomplishment to the world. He'd revolutionised potions brewing; the acclaim for that achievement would be immense. Instead, Albus' suspicions regarding the Dark Lord lingered in Severus' mind. Acclaim was worthless to a dead man, and keeping this particular secret could well save his life someday.
Severus' thoughts were interrupted by a light knock. He looked up to see a small bushy-haired Gryffindor standing outside. One eyebrow crept up. It was the annoying little hand-waver, the girl who sat next to Potter. His eyes narrowed as he tried to recall the girl's name....
"Yes, Miss Granger?" he snapped out. He loosely interlaced his fingers, resting his hands atop the open magazine, and his lips curved up in a faint smile at her shocked expression. Even now, she was wondering how he knew she was standing at his door. The firsties never took transparency charms into account.
The door opened, and he leaned forward, watching her nervous glances at the bottled grotesqueries on the shelves along the walls. The older students quickly became inured, but the reaction of the new students was always amusing. More than one had run crying from the room merely at the sight, but the stalwart Miss Granger was apparently made of sterner stuff. She took a deep breath and fixed her eyes on his face, clearly determined to ignore the jars and beakers. However, human nature will out, and just as Severus expected, morbid curiosity quickly overtook her resolve. He snorted softly at the sidelong peeks she took at the bottles as she approached his desk.
"I'd like to ask about something you said, Professor," she said. Her voice and demeanour were a study in practised self-confidence, but she gave herself away by the book bag clutched to her chest like a shield.
There might be some amusement in this, after all. He waited to interrupt her until she'd opened her mouth to speak again.
"I've said a great many things, do be specific," Severus said, flicking his fingers in a dismissive gesture.
Her brain caught up with his response too late to stop the first sibilant hiss of whatever she'd intended to say. She stopped abruptly, wrong-footed and unsure whether to continue.
Severus suppressed a smile. It was petty, he knew, but even small amusements were hard won these days.
"Contrary to what you seem to think, I don't have all evening to wait while you find your voice," he said sharply.
"Stoppering death," she blurted out in a rush. "You said you could teach us to stopper death. Is that really possible?"
Oh, she was making this so very easy.
"Are you implying I would lie to you?" he asked, arching an eyebrow.
Her eyes widened.
"N— No, sir," she stammered. "I would never imply such a thing."
If she were going to break and run, it would be now. He settled back in his chair to stretch out the tension and regarding her silently. His lips twisted as she held her ground, eyes huge and fingers bloodless against the book bag.
"Those potions I described do exist," he finally said, "but they're above the level of even the seventh-year students, and they're not taught at this school."
She blinked. "But, sir, you said—"
"I said that I can teach you to brew those potions, Miss Granger," he said, his voice soft, "not that I will teach you to brew them."
Her eyes narrowed in outrage, and he smirked, wondering how many house points she'd lose before she left his office. To his surprise, she didn't speak, but her mouth pinched into a mutinous line reminiscent of Minerva McGonagall. He didn't need Legilimency to know the miniature termagant standing before him was struggling to prevent herself from arguing with him. His eyes glittered at the prospect, but he was disappointed when she continued to remain silent. After a moment, he pointed toward the door.
"If you're through wasting my time, have your Prefect escort you back to your dormitory," he said.
The disapproval she radiated dissolved into confusion. "Prefect? How do I call a Prefect from here, sir?"
He stared at her. Was the girl addled?
"I presume a Prefect is waiting for you in the hallway. If not a Prefect, then one of the older Gryffindors," he said.
She shook her head. "No, sir. I came by myself. Was a Prefect supposed to escort me?"
Severus' brows drew together. When the girl had arrived, he'd heard no unusual noises in the corridor, and she'd appeared unharmed. Other than the sparkling curiosity in her eyes, she'd seemed unruffled. His Slytherins were notorious for their bias, and the younger students from the other houses were careful to travel the dungeons in pairs. So how had a first year Gryffindor Muggle-born made it to his office alone and undisturbed? Unless....
Abruptly, both his gaze and voice sharpened. "Miss Granger, how many Slytherin students did you encounter once you entered the dungeons?"
Still puzzled, she nonetheless answered promptly. "None, sir."
Severus shot to his feet. Curfew was drawing near, and there should have been a flurry of students returning to their common room to settle in for the night. If the corridors were empty, his Slytherins were up to something, and that invariably meant trouble. He pointed at the hard wooden chair in front of his desk.
"Wait here, and do not leave that chair until I return." He scowled, crossing the room in long strides and exiting in search of his Slytherins.
Alone in Professor Snape's office, Hermione craned her neck and openly examined the pickled monstrosities lining the walls, her face screwed up in revulsion. Why did Professor Snape have them in his office? Surely they belonged in a storeroom. No matter where a visitor stood in his office, it was impossible to avoid seeing those awful.... Oh. That was the point.
Disgusted, she turned her attention to the objects on the Professor's desk. A large candle cast a gentle glow over the stacks of marked essays, quills and inkpots cluttering the surface, but it was the open magazine directly in front of his chair that drew her attention. The magazine was old, the pages yellowed and the edges dog-eared and grimy. Someone had even scribbled in the margins. Why was Professor Snape reading such a tatty old magazine? Surely anything he could learn from it would be in a proper book.
Hermione tilted her head to read the article title. It was difficult to read upside down, but she finally made out the title, Integrating Charms into Potions. She hadn't known it was possible to integrate charms into potions, but after his response to her question about stoppering death, she thought Professor Snape would be very annoyed if she asked him anything else. Especially when it would reveal she'd been looking at the things on his desk. If she knew the name and date of the magazine, she could look up the article on her own.
Hermione eyed the magazine again. All she had to do was take a quick peek at the cover. It would only take a few seconds, but if she were caught, she'd surely lose house points or get a detention. At that, her stomach rolled with a slow, sickening twist, and she forced herself to look away from the magazine. But even as she stared at an ornate inkpot on the Professor's desk, a litany of remembered insults were running in a looping chant through her mind. Goody two-shoes. Know-it-all. Bossy cow. Scaredycatscaredycatscaredycat.
The last stung the worst, because she was afraid. There was a leaden knot in the pit of her stomach every moment of every day at the thought of making an error and proving that she didn't belong in the wizarding world. Failure at Hogwarts would be incontrovertible proof that she didn't belong anywhere.
The other kids wouldn't be scared. Gryffindors were brave and bold, and if they wanted to look at the magazine cover, they'd look at it. They certainly wouldn't sit here with their palms sweating and their stomach churning and their breath coming in ragged gasps.
The Sorting Hat had contemplated assigning her to Ravenclaw but ultimately decided against it. So was she really a Gryffindor or not?
Breaking rules went against Hermione's nature, and she chewed her bottom lip, wincing when she inadvertently drew blood. What exactly had Professor Snape said? "Wait here, and do not leave that chair until I return." Technically, he hadn't said that she had to sit in the chair, just that she wasn't to leave it.
For a dizzying moment, it was as if someone else had taken control of her body. Before she'd even blinked, Hermione drew her feet up to the edge of her seat and slowly stood in the chair, shifting her feet apart to keep her balance. She glanced back toward the door and almost fell off the chair. Professor Snape had left his office door open. She immediately began to sit down again, but stopped. There was something odd there.... She stared at it, finally realising the wall that should have been covered by the opened door was still visible. The door was still closed, but he could see through his side of it. That was so clever!
Smiling in admiration, she stood again and turned back to the magazine, carefully bending forward and resting her left hand on the desk. She reached out with her right hand, but her fingertips barely brushed the edge of the magazine. Frustrated, she raised her left foot and stretched. The smile dropped from her face as the chair rocked beneath her. Fear snapped her teeth together with a painful click, and she almost choked on the frightened cry that rose in her throat.
To her relief, the chair wobbled once more, then settled back into place. Hermione swallowed hard, then took a shuddering breath and lowered her hand to the magazine. Spreading her fingers over the pages to keep it open, she slid her thumb under the spine of the cover. With a tilt of her wrist, she lifted the magazine. Potions Quarterly was written across the cover in large lettering, but it took her a few seconds to locate the date of the issue. Finally, she found the words July, 1932. For a moment, she was tempted to turn the magazine around to read the notes written in the margins of the article, but she reluctantly decided against it. She'd already pushed her luck far enough.
Hermione gently lowered her hand, releasing the magazine. Instantly, she pushed away from the desk and dropped into a crouch. She grabbed a chair arm in each hand, and the chair creaked loudly as she braced herself. She kicked out with her feet and plopped back onto the hard wooden seat, adrenaline surging through her veins. She suspected she was wearing a silly grin, but she didn't care. She'd done it! She was a Gryffindor.
She yanked up her book bag and found a quill and a clean piece of parchment. She jotted down the date of the issue and the magazine and article titles. Maybe the school library carried back issues of Potions Quarterly. If not, she'd use one of the school owls to contact the magazine's publisher. Her parents had given her a generous allowance, and unless the cost was exorbitant, she could buy a copy for herself.
Hermione put away the quill and parchment, gently drumming her heels against the chair legs as her heartbeat slowed. She felt so energised. Last year, her parents had taken her to Alton Towers. Her father loved roller coasters, and he'd convinced her to go on the Corkscrew with him. Hermione didn't like heights, and she'd spent the entirety of the ride with her eyes squeezed shut and a death grip on the safety bar, but after it was over, she'd felt this same exhilaration, as if she was more alive than she'd been before.
She felt as if she could jump up and run all the way to Gryffindor Tower, but she was stuck in this chair. She peeked over her shoulder again, but there was still no sign of Professor Snape. The clock on the wall read 9:05, and Hermione felt a stab of anxiety at being out after curfew. Sighing, she reached back into her bag and pulled out her Potions book. She looked at it, then lowered it back into the bag. She wouldn't like Professor Snape to come back and think she needed to read the chapter he'd assigned on Friday. She'd already gone over it several times. Instead, she pulled out the copy of Hogwarts, a History that she'd borrowed from the school library. She'd just begun reading it and found it fascinating.
She was absorbed in the section on Headmistress Dilys Derwent when she heard the doorknob click. She looked over her shoulder to see Professor Snape enter the office, wearing a sour expression and muttering under his breath.
"Gambling like common... Parents will be furious..."
He stopped short, eyes narrowing, and Hermione had the impression he'd forgotten all about her. His gaze flicked to the wall clock, then back to her.
"It's gone half nine, girl," he said. "You're supposed to be in your common room."
"Yes, sir, but you told me to wait here until you returned," she answered. "So I waited."
An impatient breath hissed between his teeth. "You are an inconvenience, Miss Granger. Fortunately for you, I've business in that part of the castle, so gather your things, and don't dawdle."
They travelled the corridors in silence, torches lining the hallways flaring to life ahead of them with each flick of his wand and extinguishing as they passed. Professor Snape's long legs gave him a distinct advantage, and Hermione had to trot to keep up, but he never slowed.
When they arrived at the portrait of the Fat Lady, they found it empty. Professor Snape made a low growling noise and rapped his wand sharply against the frame.
"Show yourself," he demanded.
There was a flash of movement in the surrounding portraits, and the Fat Lady slipped back into her frame, slightly breathless.
"How very rude—" the Fat Lady began.
"I should have you removed for dereliction of duty," Professor Snape snapped. "You're supposed to be watching for students."
The Fat Lady's eyes narrowed at the Professor, and she sniffed in disdain. "Oh, it's you." She shot a pointed look at Hermione. "And with a little Muggle-born, I see. History does repeat itself, doesn't it?"
Hermione glanced up, confused over the remark and stifled a gasp. Professor Snape had gone white. He stepped forward, levelling his wand at the Fat Lady's face. His voice was barely above a whisper, but he radiated a menace that raised the hairs on the back of Hermione's neck.
"Be silent," he hissed. "Allow the girl through, or I'll burn you out of your frame."
The Fat Lady jerked back, mouth gaping and oil paint skin flushing an ugly mottled red. Finally she looked down at Hermione.
"Password?" the Fat Lady asked faintly.
Bewildered, Hermione quickly said the password, and the portrait swung open. Warmth and light spilled out into the corridor, and through the opening, Hermione could hear laughter and the murmur of her classmate's voices. She looked up, afraid to thank Professor Snape for escorting her but even more afraid not to thank him. However, at his expression, the words died in her throat.
The menace she'd seen only a moment ago had vanished. He stared at the open entrance to the common room, and for an instant there was a trace of... Grief? Remorse? Then his expression closed, and in the shadows of the corridor, he seemed to age a hundred years. He looked down at her upturned face.
"I'm curious, Miss Granger. Every few years, a student inquires about my first year speech, usually with greed glittering in their eyes. They invariably ask about bottling fame or brewing glory. Yet you've inquired about death. Why?"
Suddenly uncomfortable, Hermione shifted her weight, hugging her book bag to her chest. "My grandmother died last year. She had congestive heart failure and was ill for a long time, but then she caught the flu, and it was too much for her heart. You said it was possible to stopper death. If I'd known how to make a potion—"
Professor Snape interrupted her. "Potions interact with the magic inherent to the witch or wizard who consumes them. To a Muggle, a potion is merely a useless conglomeration of unusual ingredients."
"So there wasn't anything I could have done to save her, even if..." Hermione's voice trailed away as Professor Snape's attention shifted back to the entrance to the Gryffindor common room. That odd expression flickered across his face, but once again it was gone before she could interpret it.
He glanced down at her, and when he spoke, his voice was hollow, as if repeating a quotation he didn't completely believe. "Some people can't be saved, no matter what you do. Accept that now and life will be easier to bear." Without another word, he turned on his heel and strode down the black corridor. Within three paces, he'd vanished.
Hermione watched him leave, and with the warmth and light at her back, she had the unsettling impression that the darkness had swallowed him whole.
30 May, 1998
"Where is he?" Hermione turned slowly in place.
She and Harry had gone to the Shrieking Shack to retrieve Professor Snape's body, sneaking out of Hogwarts under Harry's Invisibility Cloak, exhaustion nipping at their heels. They'd returned to the room where the Professor had fallen, but his body was gone. Even the dust, dirt and blood she remembered coating the floor had disappeared.
"He should be right there." Harry pointed, then walked over to double-check the line of sight from the crates piled along one wall. He shrugged, bewildered. "Maybe Ron told someone to get Snape's body before he and Ginny left?"
"I don't think so." Hermione shook her head. "Ron wasn't in any shape to give Professor Snape a second thought."
Once the adrenaline of the battle faded, Molly had collapsed in grief beside Fred's body, and Arthur had knelt next to his wife, lost in his own sorrow. Bill had taken control, face set in grim resolve. He'd gently coaxed his parents to their feet and led them from the Great Hall. Ron and Ginny had exchanged a glance then flanked an ashen George, silently urging him to follow their parents. Ron had detoured long enough to whisper that they were going to the Burrow but that he and Ginny would return to Hogwarts later that evening.
"Voldemort or one of the other Death Eaters must have taken it, then," Harry said.
"But why?" Hermione scanned the room once again, even though she knew it was pointless.
Harry's expression turned grave, and he rubbed his hand over his mouth. "To make an Inferius? Or there are potions that use body parts, maybe they took it for that."
"Oh, god." Hermione felt sick at the thought.
"Let's search the rest of the Shrieking Shack, then check the grounds," Harry suggested. "It's possible that someone moved the body, planning to come back for it later."
"All right." She glanced down again at the strangely pristine floor and hesitated. "If they took Professor Snape's body to use for some awful reason, why would they bother to clean the floor?"
"There's probably some Dark Arts use for blood from a dead man, but honestly, I'm not sure I want to think about it," Harry answered.
Hermione bit her lip to stop herself from chiding Harry. Whoever had taken the Professor's body hasn't used Tergeo to siphon the blood away, they'd used Scourgify to clean everything away, including the dust and dirt.
Harry touched her sleeve to get her attention, and he nodded toward the stairs. "Let's start at the top and work our way down."
She took in Harry's strained face, and her heart twisted. It was no wonder he'd missed the difference in the charms used on the floor; he was exhausted. She'd thought bringing Professor Snape's body back to Hogwarts was the least they could do to acknowledge the sacrifices the man had made, but she shouldn't do it at Harry's expense.
"I'm sorry for dragging you out here, Harry," she said softly. "I'll finish this. You go back to Hogwarts and get some sleep."
"You're tired, too, and I'm not leaving you here alone," he said, a mulish expression settling onto his face.
"I'll be fine," she insisted. "There are Aurors everywhere. The rest of the Death Eaters are in custody, so there's no one waiting to leap out at me. We only used your Invisibility Cloak because we didn't want to answer questions about why we were leaving Hogwarts. " She sighed. "Anyway, I doubt that Professor Snape's body is here. If someone went to the trouble to tidy up, they didn't leave his body behind."
She cut Harry off with a sharp shake of her head. "You're almost dead on your feet, and considering what you've been through, that's a little too literal for comfort."
Harry looked surprised, but then he laughed and scrubbed his hands over his face. "Yeah, but I'm still not leaving you here."
Torn between frustration and affection, Hermione refrained from rolling her eyes. "I have an idea. Let me try something."
She concentrated on Professor Snape as she'd last seen him, then flicked Bellatrix' wand. "Accio button from Professor Snape's robes." She glanced at Harry. "If the Professor's body is nearby, the button will be here in a minute."
Harry nodded appreciatively. "Good idea."
While they waited, Harry paced with the dragging step of a weary man too tired to stop moving, while Hermione's gaze was drawn back to that empty space on the floor. As surprising as it seemed, Professor Snape's death had been the only one she'd witnessed. During the battle at Hogwarts, she'd been too busy fighting for her own life to notice the death around her. She'd too far away when Fred died, and at the last moment, Ron had stepped in front of her when Harry had faced Voldemort. There was a part of her that was grateful. Seeing Professor Snape die had been horrible enough; she'd had no desire to see more death.
"Why do you think Professor Snape didn't try to defend himself?" she asked slowly.
"What?" Harry stopped and looked at her, blinking.
"You'd seen him duel; you know how good he was," she said. "Right before Voldemort set that awful snake on him, the Professor raised his wand, but then he just stood there. He didn't even try to defend himself."
"He wasn't going to win a duel against Voldemort," Harry said, shaking his head.
"But he didn't even try."
"I don't know." Harry lifted one shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. "Maybe Snape didn't think Voldemort would really kill him."
Hermione shook her head. "Then why raise his wand in the first place? Does that make any sense?"
"Maybe it was a reflex action? Snape had to know he was threatened."
"Exactly," Hermione persisted. "So why didn't he try to defend himself?"
"I don't know, Hermione," Harry repeated, a sharp edge in his voice.
Her expression softened. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to ramble on." She turned toward the door, sighing in defeat. "The button should have been here by now."
Harry nodded. "We'll go through the Shack to be certain, but the body's either been destroyed or it's too far away for an Accio to work."
Hermione closed her eyes, ignoring the tears that suddenly prickled, bitter and insistent, behind her eyelids. She was overly tired, and she'd been fending off tears for hours. So many dead, so many wounded, and now Professor Snape's body was missing.... She savagely cut off that thought. She couldn't afford to let her concentration slip; there was too much work left to do. Still, she felt a steady pressure rising behind her breastbone, choking off her breath and tightening her throat. Like water wearing against a dam, grief was pushing inexorably outward, and she knew it was only a matter of time before the barriers crumbled.
She opened her eyes and cast one last look at the curiously spotless floor, then followed Harry out of the room to begin a search she already knew was futile.